Lake Gregory offers stunning natural beauty, smaller crowds, and a relaxing, stress-free experience, something that can be tricky to find in SoCal.
In recent months, more and more people have been staying closer to home and, instead of scheduling lengthy vacations, have been jumping in the car and heading out on day-cations. A lot of fun can be packed into a day trip, especially here in Southern California where we have so many interesting destinations within a relatively short distance.
Head south from L.A. and, in about two hours, you’ll be crossing the border into Mexico. Head east and you’ll arrive in the desert playground of the rich and famous, Palm Springs. Drive north and you can enjoy the beautiful beaches of Ventura and Santa Barbara. But one of my favorite day trips, and the subject of this report, is the picturesque mountain destination of Lake Gregory.
I like Lake Gregory for a variety of reasons. The obvious reason, of course, is the natural beauty of a mountain lake. Also, since it is less crowded than the more popular resorts a bit farther up the mountain, it makes for a more relaxed, stress-free experience. But one of the primary reasons I like Lake Gregory, or any mountain resort for that matter, is that during the summer it is generally 10 to 15 degrees cooler up there, making it my go-to summer destination when I want to beat the heat.
Getting to Lake Gregory couldn’t be any easier. From just about anywhere in SoCal, take any of the northbound freeways that connect with Interstate 10, then either head east or west toward San Bernardino, depending on the direction from which you are traveling.
Once you reach the proper freeway exit, Waterman Avenue, you simply head north on Waterman, which turns into CA-18 when it crosses the Foothill (210) Freeway and takes you directly into the mountains. Seriously though, this is 2020 and we all have GPS either on our phones or built into our late model vehicles, so I’ll leave the step-by-step driving specifics to Waze or whichever navigation system you use. Simply set Crestline or Lake Gregory as your driving destination.
I will make this recommendation, however. If you are traveling from the L.A. area, take the Foothill (210) Freeway rather than Interstate 10. I say this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the 210 typically has less traffic than the busy, and often jammed, I-10. Also, if you exit I-10 at Waterman Avenue, you will drive northbound through a fairly unattractive, and some even say sketchy, part of San Bernardino before you make your way up the mountain. You bypass that part of town by taking the 210 and exiting at Waterman.
If you or your family members are among those who tend to get a little queasy from the constant twists and turns of mountain roads, Lake Gregory is the perfect choice for a day trip because it is adjacent to Crestline, one of the first cities you will reach as you make your way into the mountains. It’s just 16.9 miles – around 30 minutes – from San Bernardino. Lake Arrowhead is 8 miles beyond Crestline, and Big Bear is approximately 24.5 miles beyond Lake Arrowhead.
When You Arrive
If you feel as through you are entering Switzerland upon your arrival, it’s because you are. Lake Gregory is known as the Switzerland of Southern California, and Switzerland is actually a neighborhood in Crestline with just over 4,300 residents. You will pass an eye-catching pedestrian arch that says “Switzerland” as you arrive. The chalet style architecture of the area gives you that Swiss feel, as well.
There’s normally plenty to do once you arrive at Lake Gregory, including waterslides, pedal boats, kayak rentals and picnic areas. These activities are currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is still plenty to do in the area. Relax by one of the most beautiful lakes in California, take a nature hike or, if you work up an appetite, get a bite to eat. You certainly won’t go hungry during your visit, as there are many cool little places to grab some grub.
If you’re jonesing for java, make a stop at Paradise Mountain Coffee for hot and cold coffee beverages, fruit smoothies and quick bites. For a more substantial meal, try the Crestline Café, known for their hearty breakfasts and delicious dinners. The dinner menu includes some serious comfort food favorites, such as chicken fried steak with country gravy, grilled salmon or, one of my favorite meals, chili spaghetti topped with shredded cheese, chopped onion and sour cream.
While there are a number of eateries located around Lake Gregory, my restaurant of choice in the Crestline area is Hortencia’s at the Cliffhanger. This may not be the place for you if you have a fear of heights, however, because this restaurant literally hangs over the side of the mountain along Highway 18. The Mexican food served here is quite good, but the view is nothing short of breathtaking.
There is a large dining room with window views, but I prefer the outdoor patio seating as it really kicks the closer-to-nature experience up a notch. Some say that on a clear day you can see all the way to Catalina Island, nearly 100 miles away. The Cliffhanger Restaurant was originally built in the 1920s as a restaurant and gas station. The gas station eventually closed but, over the next several decades, The Cliffhanger housed a variety of different dining establishments. It closed in the 1990s but reopened in 2013 as Hortencia’s at the Cliffhanger.
Should you need to pick up some snacks or beverages during your visit, there are a number of convenience stores in the area but for serious grocery shopping, locals and visitors alike head to Goodwin & Sons Market on Lake Gregory Boulevard across from the lake. They’ve been serving the community since 1946 and you can find just about anything you need at this clean, modern supermarket. I stop there at least once during each visit to the area to pick up some of their delicious fresh baked breads and pastries.
There are a number of other unique businesses in the area, as well. Trinket Trader has an impressive selection of interesting items, from home décor and furniture to antiques. Want your pet to be pampered while you’re in town? Doggie Styles (yes, I know, keep the jokes to yourself) is a local pet grooming shop that will keep your four-legged family members looking good.
In case you fall in love with the area and one day just isn’t enough to take it all in, there are a number of small hotels and cabins in the area, such as the popular Sleepy Hollow Cabins & Hotel, as well as some very nice, and reasonably priced, AirBNB home rentals.
For some, Lake Gregory and other nearby mountain resorts are a year-round destination. Personally, however, my visits are limited to spring though fall when the weather is nice and driving conditions are good. Winter weather, although quite beautiful in the mountains, brings with it possible highway closures that may impact your trip with driving delays or the inability to reach your destination at all. Take this into consideration when planning your visit.
As you leave Lake Gregory, there is no sign saying goodbye, just another stone arch, similar to the one you will see as you arrive, on the other side of the street wishing you, quite simply, “Happy Return.”
For additional information on Crestline / Lake Gregory: http://www.cityofcrestline.com/